Defending champions Spain and hosts Netherlands win big ahead of quarterfinals 

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs

Title-holders Spain and world champions Netherlands both sent out firm statements of intent on day three of the European Water Polo Championships in Eindhoven. Spain powered past Italy, while the Netherlands brushed Greece aside as both sides eagerly hunt the gold.

Group A: Netherlands 15-10 Greece, Hungary 17-2 Croatia
Standings: 1. Netherlands 9pts, 2. Greece 6pts, 3. Hungary 3pts, 4. Croatia 0pts
Group B: Israel 8-16 France, Spain 14-8 Italy
Standings: 1. Spain 9pts, 2. Italy 6pts, 3. France 3pts, 4. Israel 0pts

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs

After two days of thrilling action in Eindhoven, the top spot in Group B was still to be decided, and it was a prize defending champions Spain clearly wanted to win.

In their final preliminary game against Italy, Spain started brightly and stunned their opponents by opening up a 5-1 lead in the first quarter.

Elena Ruiz, MVP at last year’s world championships, fired in twice, while Judith Forca also hit two and Maica Garcia Godoy one.

It was an explosive attacking display, and although Italy hit back in the second, the lead remained at four (8-4).

Spain extended their advantage to five (11-6) after winning the third 3-2, and from then there was no way back for Italy, who ended up losing 14-8.

“This is a very important year and we want to show we\’re ready for everything, we want to win, and keep winning,” commented Spain’s Anni Espar after the game.

“Against Italy we always knew it was going to be a real battle as they are chasing Olympic qualification, so it was important we got off to a fast start.

“We were consistent in defence, which was the key to the victory today. We particularly performed well on man-down and defended our goal well.

“We’re the defending champions and we want to really win the gold again as this is such an important tournament, and it’s been so great playing here in this atmosphere.”

Group winners Spain and Italy, who finished second, will now enjoy a rest day before returning to action in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs

Earlier on Sunday, France got the better of Israel (8-16) to seal third place in Group B.

It was a first win of the tournament for the hosts of the 2024 Olympics, and they were never behind in the whole contest, going 3-4 ahead after the first, then 5-9 at the turnaround.

The second half also went France’s way, as they comfortably won the third 1-3, then the fourth 2-4.Camelia Bouloukbachi, Orsolya Hertzka and Aurelie Battu did most of the damage for France, all scoring three each.

Finishing third means France will now face Germany, who finished fourth in Group D, in Monday’s crossovers, while Israel will take on Group D winners Great Britain.

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs

Spain may want to keep their hands on the trophy they won in Budapest and Split, but world champions Netherlands are just as eager to add the European crown to their own collection.

In front of another capacity crowd, the Pieter van den Hoogenband Swimming Stadium was rocking for the third successive night as the Netherlands defeated Greece 15-10.

The Greeks’ winning run was abruptly ended by the formidable Netherlands, who won the first quarter 4-3, before a devastating attacking spell (5-1) in the second put the hosts firmly in charge.

Sabrina Van der Sloot, Simone Van de Kraats (2), Vivian Sevenich and Iris Wolves all scored to put them 9-4 ahead as the Greece defence was powerless to halt the tide.

The 2022 silver medallists did win the third period 2-3, with goals from Ioanna Chydirioti, Maria Patra and Eleftheria Plevritou, but they needed more if they were going to trouble the result.

Captain Van der Sloot turned on the style once again in the final eight minutes, adding another two goals to help close out the game and make the noise from the home fans even louder. 

The result means the Netherlands top Group A, while Greece finish second, so both will now enjoy a rest day before returning to battle in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs

In Sunday’s final game, Hungary finally got their first win of the tournament, as they comfortably beat Croatia 17-2.

Defensive problems saw the Magyars concede 14 goals against Greece and the Netherlands in the opening two rounds of play, but they were never really troubled by Croatia.

Racing into a 5-1 lead after the first, the tone was set and Hungary appeared to be letting out all their frustrations from those two early defeats on the Croats.

5-1 was soon 11-1 as the Hungarians ruthlessly slammed in six unanswered goals in the second.  

With the result beyond doubt, the scoring slowed slightly in the third (3-1) and fourth (3-0), but the 17-2 scoreline should now give Hungary something to build on.

For the record, Krisztina Garda and Dora Leimeter top-scored for Hungary with four goals each, while Neli Jankovic and Iva Rozic were on target for Croatia.

Unlike Greece and the Netherlands, third-place Hungary will be back in action tomorrow against Czechia in the crossovers, while fourth-place Croatia will take on neighbours Serbia.